{} Poetry and modulation

Modulation and the poetry of Jared Carter

Jared Carter is a poet born and based in Indiana, 'a fifth-generation Hoosier, descended from anti-slavery North Carolinians and Virginians who migrated to Indiana.' He's a regional poet but, I'd claim, a poet who deserves wide recognition. His poetry is pedestrian quite often but not very often. The poetry is also a record of sustained success. Poem after poem is lucid and luminous. This is a protean poet, the affinities of his regional poetry very different from the affinities of the universal poetry. The affinities of this poetry include, distantly or very distantly, Rembrandt, I think.

'Modulation’ isn’t an established term in poetry criticism, of course. I think that modulation is a useful term, the difference between modulated and unmodulated poetry a useful distinction. What I mean by modulation will become steadily clearer as I discuss, to begin with, three poems from Jared Carter’s second volume, ‘After the Rain.’  For the moment, I simply state that although all poetry, even concrete poetry, exists in time, like music, modulated and unmodulated poetry are very different in their relationship to time and to change. Later still, I make the claim that although Jared Carter’s modulated poetry has claims to importance, his unmodulated poetry has much stronger claims, and that ‘Les Barricades Mystérieuses,’ his volume of Thirty-Two Villanelles, is his best work so far.

To begin with some lines from ‘After the Rain:’

All day long they have been threshing
and something breaks: the canvas belt
that drives the separator flies off,
parts explode through the swirl
of smoke and chaff, and he is dead
where he stands
(The Gleaning, ‘After the Rain’)

This is the rather prosaic opening of 'The Gleaning.' One line, the first line, suffices to describe the uneventful work of threshing which occupies many hours, most of the daylight hours, and then, with dramatic suddenness, the explosive event and the result of that event, a man dead, but not, quite yet, falling or fallen but instead, dead ‘where he stands.’ It’s the living who generally stand, not the dead, and the image of the dead man standing is vivid, piercing the lurid ‘swirl/of smoke and chaff.’ Even when the man is dead, the matter of fact tone persists. This is no miscalculation, but an effective contrast between tone and event. The modulation could be called an ‘instantaneous modulation.’ Modulations, though, generally take more or less time. They are more often carefully prepared, anticipated, rather than completely unexpected.

In the second line, ‘something breaks’ refers, obviously, to the canvas belt, but the reader’s response is never completely determined by the writer’s intentions. The ‘something breaks’ for me has a linkage with the ending of a life: I have in mind D H Lawrence’s description of the death of Gerald in the (over-written) chapter ‘Snowed up’ of ‘Women in Love:’ ‘But he wandered unconsciously, till he slipped and fell down, and as he fell something broke in his soul, and immediately he went to sleep.’

The lines already quoted are followed immediately by another modulation, back to matter-of-factness of event as well as tone, the return to work. What can we gather about their work? That work can’t be halted or delayed too long even by a death, that these are people for whom reality is harsh, not easy. Even though event and tone are not in tension, there is tension between these and the harsh context, the context of their lives:

They carry him into the house and go on
with the work.

...but the matter-of-factness is modulated in turn, very subtly, the extraordinary event modulating the ordinary. The death has cast a shadow upon the living and there is now a hush in the evening:

The men stand along the porch, talking
in low voices, smoking their cigarettes;

The sense of the shadow is achieved, significantly, by the one word ‘low,’ the shadow present without being named. In various places in Jared Carter’s poetry, the word ‘shadow’ is used explicitly. It’s an important word in his poetry, although far less prominent than the cognate word ‘light.’

By this time the barber has arrived and the final modulation takes place as he begins his work, the shaving of the dead man. The garrulous barber is a wonderful creation and the scene is an absorbing one, very complex in mood, although still matter of fact and ordinary, human, reassuringly human, humorous, a reassertion of normality. There are, however, overtones of the grotesque, the disconcerting and the chilling - there are bound to be, since this is a dead man being shaved, not a living one, but this is one instance among many in the work of Jared Carter of resonance, of nuances, of understated and complex moods which bring to mind, even if distantly, Chekhov. The contours of a Jared Carter poem are more clearly defined than those of a Chekhov short story, and the poem ends decisively, and very successfully:

the barber trims the lamp, and leans down,
and says, for a last time, his name.

So, I’ve used the words ‘modulation’ ‘modulating’ and ‘modulated’ above. Modulation, as I use the term, has different aspects: modulation of tone, for example, from the everyday to the heightened (the reference may be to what is described or the language used to describe it), modulation of tempo (what is described, or the language used to describe it, may change slowly, rapidly, suddenly), modulation of event, prominent in the narrative poetry which is one of Jared Carter’s notable strengths, modulation of personal experience. To give an example of this last from outside the poetry of Jared Carter, Martin Seymour-Smith discussing the work of Georges Simenon (in 'Guide to Modern World Literature') writes: 'His technique is to take a character and then - he works very quickly - go along with him in a situation that takes him to the end of his tether.'

Modulation has, of course, an established use in classical and other music, referring to the transition from one key to another. Modulation is often most striking in the development section of a movement in sonata form. In the development section of a Beethoven symphony, for example, the listener may be taken far from the home key, to ‘remote’ keys, the effect intensified by marked changes of tempo and by other means. In music, ‘modulation’ does not include changes of tempo or dynamics, perhaps from very soft to very loud, but I use the term inclusively, and in my terminology, modulation can even be synonymous with ‘change’ of a certain kind. Although the music exists in time, and is changing from bar to bar, the change which is characteristic of modulation is different from, over and above, if you like, these changes: similarly,  modulation in poetry. ’ So, The Gleaning modulates, develops, in very striking ways, and we feel, as we read it, that we have come a long way, far from the starting point, to regions sharply contrasted with the starting point (and each new region can be regarded as a new starting point) so that this comparatively short poem seems a very spacious one, expansive rather than constricted.

Compare 'The Gleaning' with a very strong and successful poem by Robert Frost about a similar incident, another death in a working rural community, ‘Out,out-’ and the profound effects of modulation are strikingly apparent. In Robert Frost’s poem, modulation is far less prominent. In the closing lines of the poem, a death is followed abruptly by a return to the world of the everyday:

They listened at his heart.
Little - less - nothing! - and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

There is not much sense, though, of our being taken to a distant region before being returned to the everyday, to ‘home,’ and as a result the poem is far less dramatic, far less eventful, than The Gleaning. An enumeration - a mechanical enumeration - of what happens in the two poems would give us similar findings, in some respects : a death, the contrast between the death and the working world, the world of normality, but the wider world of each poem is vastly different and I would argue that it is modulation in the one case, comparative lack of modulation in the other, which make the decisive difference.

For all that, a poem without modulation isn’t necessarily inferior to one with modulation. There is no assured, almost mechanical way to arrive at an estimate of a poem’s artistic success (although we can say that a contemporary epic poem in rhyming couplets about the heroic exploits of a king is very unlikely to be artistically successful.) There is an unmodulated poetry of concentration in which Jared Carter is extraordinarily successful, above all in the massive achievement of the villanelles.

Modulation can be linked with the metaphor of the journey. If we journey by walking (as Thoreau pointed out) we can observe so much, compared with faster means of transportation, but there are things which we can only observe if we sit or stand and look with concentrated attention, so that the object of our attention can have its maximum effect upon us. Modulated and unmodulated poetry gives us sharply contrasted experiences. Jared Carter is a notably versatile poet, one who has such strengths in free verse and in rigorous form, but the distinction between free verse and rigorous form in his work is less fundamental, I’d argue, than that between modulated and unmodulated form.

I next examine modulation in a much longer poem, ‘Barn Siding,’ also in ‘After the Rain,’ but before I leave 'The Gleaning,' a few remarks to extend what I’ve already written about the vividness of ‘dead/where he stands,’ an instructive example of Jared Carter’s vividness. Vividness in poetry isn’t of course, one thing. It may be ‘additive,’ the piling up of vivid phrases, as in the more successful poems of early Seamus Heaney, poems like gardens proudly displaying masses and masses of showy poetic flowers (often, as again, in early Heaney, flowers of very fine quality) as opposed to that achieved by miraculously economical means - which I refer to as ‘selective vividness.’ If the term seems to limit the vividness, that is not so. In actual fact, selective vividness may be fully as intense as additive, and can give effects unachievable by additive vividness. A single red geranium or begonia shining out amidst a mass of foliage plants may have greater impact than a whole garden full of red flowers. ‘Barn Siding’ certainly doesn’t include the piling up of vivid phrases, but the vividness to be found in it is very striking.

In Barn Siding, the starting point, ‘home,’ (compare the ‘home key’ which is the starting point for adventures in musical modulation) is again ordinariness, but the ordinariness, if it is ordinariness, of a skilled, a practical and very knowledgeable man, a ‘picker,’ one who understands so thoroughly such things as the properties of timber, of buildings made of timber. It’s obvious also that Jared Carter must himself understand these things thoroughly, have immersed himself in this world and that he must have given such things concentrated attention. There are pieces of information which will ring true for anyone who has been in an old timber building: ‘That’s what you need in this business: ears.’ There are hints - and plain warnings - in the introductory section which make clear that there is to be a crisis which involves wood, the frailty of wood, in the process setting up suspense which would do credit to any writer of detective fiction. The tone is colloquial, later heightened - modulated by heightening - as the barn he’s in begins to collapse:

got brighter as I ran, all the cracks

between the siding started to glow
and swell with light. Not a trace of wind,
no tornado screaming through the trees,
sucking on the walls, only layers

of dust and chaff that had built up all
those years working free now and spilling
through the light, leaking, spreading like smoke,
making no more sound than a whisper.

More suspense later, as we wonder how - or if - he is to be rescued, after ‘a stray board caught’ him ‘across the neck.’ In the event, his rescue comes about through an unexpected and audacious instance of modulation of tone - from traditional knowledge to something completely different, the modern technology of the satellite camera. The suspense before his rescue heightens modulation of event, and it’s as a triumphant demonstration of modulation of event that this poem is so successful. This gripping, sustained narrative is a complete success - and the success should be fully appreciated even though Jared Carter achieves it with such apparent ease.

Next, I turn to ‘Drawing the Antique.’ This poem, I think, contains modulated and non-modulated elements. The non-modulated element, the giving of concentrated attention to some plaster casts, is far more prominent, and serves to introduce the non-modulated poetry of Jared Carter. This poem too begins very quietly, without insistence. Who would find at all striking the prepositions which are placed at the beginning of the first two lines? In the extract below, the first section of the poem, I underline the prepositions and use square brackets to indicate the phrases in the poem, discussing the phrases later:

[On the third floor of the old high school -]
[up a stairway fenced off in the late sixties
due to rising costs and squabbles over turf -]
[through an iron gate with the principal’s key,]
[down a barrel-vaulted hallway,] [along doors
nailed shut now,] [past rows of display cases
displaying nothing -]
[after turning a corner
in our explorations,] [we come face to face
with three life-sized plaster casts acquired
when the local art league put them up for grabs
back during the fifties.]

Who would find striking the prepositions which are placed at the beginning of the first two lines? We do when we reread the section. They begin an eventful series, growing in insistence, becoming more and more emphatic, an instance of what I call ‘gradation’ and ‘directionality,’ which are aspects of modulation: on - up - through - down - along - past, at first consistently at the beginning of the line, so that we wait a little while for the next - but then they come thick and fast, ‘along’ in the same line as ‘down,’ followed quickly by ‘past.’ Meanwhile, of course, there’s no main verb. It’s later that ‘we come face to face,’ ‘after turning a corner...’ a notable use of suspense and tension.

Poetic rhythm doesn’t only come from the iambics or other metrical structures which may make up a line. Of course, no contemporary poet of importance writes in the thumping rhythms which used to be popular, except for parody or in the poet’s lighter verse, perhaps. What has become far more important is the rhythm of phrases - phrase rhythm. This links the poet with the prose writer, who can also make use of phrase rhythm. Phrase rhythm need not be apparent in every poem, but where it is apparent, it can be very striking, as in this poem. I show the phrases within square brackets, as above. The first phrase is short, taking up the first line, the second is long, taking up the next two lines. The phrase which begins with ‘we come face to face’ and ends with ‘during the fifties’ is very long. To begin with, I considered that ‘back during the fifties’ was a rare case of an artistic misjudgment on the part of Jared Carter, although a minor one - it seemed a little humdrum, an unnecessary detail (although I didn’t, and don’t, think that of the earlier ‘in the late sixties.’) Now, I think that ‘back during the fifties’ can be justified. Importantly, it extends the phrase - a phrase which is already very long becomes even longer. This is what I call ‘nimiety,’ justified excess (after Basil Lam's use of the word in connection with Beethoven - as, for example, in the repeated phrase in the trio of the String Quartet Opus 135.) ‘Back during the fifties’ also provides a lull - a contrast of tone with - the primal energy of the second section.

I won’t quote here this second section - the second section in this analysis, that is - which begins with:

Copies of copies

and closes with (again, in this analysis at least):

‘...were carefully stuck.’

What unites this section, surely, is its concentrated vividness, intensification of what is already intense. As I’ve already made clear, in my ‘weighting,’ (a term I use to mean roughly ‘in my order of priorities,’) vividness is not one of the most important elements in a poet’s achievement, taken in isolation, but Jared Carter’s vividness is so varied - from the sensuous to the terrifying, but with many shades and variants - that it has to be recognized and admired. This is not much more than a list, taken from the poem - but what a list! (To use a phrase of Randall Jarrell’s in ‘Poetry and the Age,’ in connection with Walt Whitman). So, we have a momentous sequence:

‘dim - dust-mantled - glossy - luminous in the bleak light - rubbed smooth - hammered and dented - wounded - fallen - overwhelmed - marking-pencil swastikas - uplifted hand - corroded - bleeding through - battered - chipped away - stained yellow - moistened with spit.’

The third section gives a necessary relaxation. To continue with the supercharged intensity of the second section to the end of the poem would have been artistically mistaken and Jared Carter can be relied upon to avoid this kind of mistake. But it contains superb conjunctions, which make the relaxation incisive: ’lost originals’ and shapes/destroyed and timeless.’ The poem finishes with the rightness, the obvious rightness, I’d claim, of:

still able to instruct.

The most dramatic of modulations is one that brings, or seems about to bring, death. This is the case in the uncollected poem 'Difficult.' It can be read at: http://southernhum.com/jared-carter-poems/ This is the experience of "a difficult man."

as he walked along, the wind picking up,
then dying, and the sudden cold breeze.

He was far from the last barn or shed,
out in a vast empty field gone fallow.

And then he is attacked:

...At first,
it seemed someone was following him,
then the quick sharp stings, on his neck
and hands -
it was all around him now,
smacking down, hammering hard,
the strange bluish stones becoming
bigger than any he had ever seen
in his life...

(Compare Rilke, one of the Uncollected Poems:

There stands death, a bluish distillate)

A vivid, telling detail during the hail's onslaught:

...the piece of newspaper
punched full of holes.

The hail attacks him:

...in bursts,
as though he were being kicked
again and again by some creature

with hooves of iron.

And in the end, just as:

...he began
to let go...

...All around him,
gathered in icy drifts, the stones
with their blue, crystalline hearts
began to melt and disappear.

In the systematic treatment of poem-archetypes which I give later, I include hail as an instance of 'precipitation.' Poem-archetypes, I argue, often concern natural events which threaten life or sustain life, and human responses to these events.

‘Les Barricades Mystérieuses’ seems to me suffused by music, but it’s not the music which develops, which relies upon changes other than the necessary changes of the music in time, the music which goes far from a starting point, the music of sonata form and other forms which progress. Instead, music more akin to the Indian raga, played by sitar and tabla, very often, or Bach’s ‘Art of Fugue,’ which is music remaining in the same key. Music which obviously has a beginning and an end but which could potentially stay for ever, music which is in time but almost timeless. I don’t discuss in any detail at all the diction of ‘Les Barricades Mystérieuses,’ but its diction puts it in a timeless world - not contemporary, not archaic, and not just timeless but almost placeless, for all that places are evoked sensuously, sinuously, in the poems - but with practically no trace of Jared Carter the regionalist. (There are a very few traces of regional colouring. The notes explain that ‘raincrow,’ which is the title of one of the poems, is in parts of the mid-West, ‘a folk term for the mourning dove.) Not, though, placeless in the sense that much of the poetry of Shelley is placeless (the frequent mention of ‘Ocean’ and the rest, which could be anywhere.) But of course, unless we cling to received opinion rather than reading the poems closely, Jared Carter is, I claim, a far more important and a far more wonderful poet than Shelley.

In actual fact, a great deal of very poor poetry is unmodulated in the sense that it ‘stays in one place,’ but the place is a humdrum and banal world, a world without individuality. Jared Carter’s villanelles don’t move from the humdrum into a far more elevated, or at least very different world - they occupy an elevated world and invite contemplation, concentrated attention. In this, they are have linkages with the world of, let’s say, Rilke’s ‘Duino Elegies.’

The poem ‘Plantain’ in ‘Les Barricades Mystérieuses,’ says of the ‘ambient grasses:’ ‘...With that same timbre,/now they are calling.’ A particular timbre, or tone quality, seems to me to describe the sound-world of all the poems. I don’t think this is a fanciful, or inexact, comment, but to me, the timbre of the poems has the velvety quality of viola tone, or violas playing softly with violins, or violas playing with cellos on their top-most, most expressive string. The timbre isn’t at all brassy, piercing, harsh, percussive. This seems to me an emotional key to the whole series of poems. The viola has an inner part in a musical texture, of course, but in a broader sense, inwardness seems to me to be inherent in this poetry. I’m reminded of a wonderful direction to the performers in one of Beethoven’s last string quartets (Opus 132), ‘mit innigster Empfindung,’ ‘with the most inward feeling.’ The late style of Beethoven contain many passages of immense calm and serenity, but it would be truer to say that the quartets are in a musical world beyond calmness and serenity - in an objective rather than subjective world, perhaps, except that the associations of ‘objective’ are all misleading. The same is true of this volume of Jared Carter’s. It’s a poetry purged of familiar associations.

The poems have other linkages with music. The title of the whole book refers to the composition for harpsichord of the same name by Francois Couperin. Another linkage is the fact that, obviously, they make so much use of repeated lines. Exact repetition is far more often a resource of music rather than poetry. The exposition section of a symphony, quartet, concerto or sonata may be repeated exactly, as may smaller units.

Yet another is that some of the poems are explicitly musical, such as the first, ‘Improvisation.’ which begins:

To improvise, first let your fingers stray
across the keys like travellers in snow;

(This must refer to the white keys of a keyboard instrument!)

‘Clavichord’ has, as the beginning of the second stanza:

my strings, responsive to your least commands,
give back strange overtones and harmonies.’

Of course, acoustically, it’s the overtones which make notes of the same pitch played by, let’s say, viola and trumpet sound so different.

The same poem has ‘...My inarticulate keys/quicken beneath your soft, attentive hands.’

But, after giving our attention to music in these poems, we have to expand the circle to do justice to their rich world. Not just music, then, but sound as such: ‘Somewhere, within the murmuring of things...a loose door swings,/banging against a wall...Each rusty iron hinge/creaks in a different key...the quickening thrum of wings.’ From Solstice: ‘Awakened by the cries of distant crows.’ And the ‘cries’ of the ‘crows’ are made more piercing by the sounds of the words.

Light and darkness too, as might be expected in this elemental poetry, permeate the work. The titles alone are evidence: ‘Phosphorescence,’ ‘Dusk,’ ‘Candle,’ ‘Solstice,’ ‘Comet.’ The reader who at mention of this begins to sigh a little and begins to make the point that to write about such things perhaps gives the poet something of an advantage - writing about elemental themes does help to give a poem some profundity, without too much effort on the part of the poet - will soon find an enhanced respect for Jared Carter when the poems are read closely. ‘...patterned by the whorls/of our fingertips’ in ’Riverdrift’ reminds us yet again of Jared Carter’s meticulousness and exactness of observation, as well as of his inspired observation. ‘The parallels converge,’ in ‘Candle’ seems clearly to be an allusion to four dimensional geometry, the geometry of Riemann and others, in which parallels do converge. This is audacious! In ‘Cemetery’ there are ‘waves/of permutation through the random leaves,’ a mathematical linkage. This example may seem contrived in isolation. In the context of the poem the words seem natural, effortless. (The massive technical achievement of the whole series of poems seems just as natural, just as effortless, entirely in keeping with the words of the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, ‘ars est celare artem,’ ‘art lies in concealing art.’ )

The poems are visual, aural, tactile in their references - olfactory, too: ‘Raincrow’ has ‘...wreathed/with faint perfume.’ 'Millefiori' has "A subtle fume/of brightness..." They almost demand the use of the word ‘synaesthesia,’ except that sensations, the senses, are only a part of their world. Their insights seem so fundamental that someone born blind and deaf, with even more disabilities, in fact, could appreciate them.

In an accomplished essay published in the Valparaiso Review, ‘Telling it slant: the narrative poetry of Jared Carter,’ David Lee Garrison draws attention to narrative in this sequence of villanelles. To quote only part of his analysis: ‘One might assume that in writing them, Carter had abandoned the interest in narrative shown by the two earlier books. Yet narrative is present throughout Barricades, too, although on a different level from that of the individual poem. The thirty-two villanelles, taken as a series, form an extended narrative of their own. Read in sequence, the poems tell the story of two lovers. The opening poem describes the beginning of their journey toward an old country house (a villa), and many of the villanelles tell what they do there. They lived in the house before, and now they re-explore the covered bridge and farmland around it; they sense its ghosts; they make love and remember making love there in the past.’

In my reading at least, these narrative elements don’t superimpose modulation on poems which are individually unmodulated. For me, the narrative is first of all too slow-moving and in the second place too faint to amount to modulation.

'Les Barricades Mystérieuses' as a sequence-field

A poem can sometimes be considered as a unified field. It's not at all common for an entire collection or sequence of poems to be analysable in this way. But it seems to me that in the case of 'Les Barricades Mystérieuses,' the entire poem-sequence is so unified that the boundaries between the separate poems break down: during reading, to an extent, far more so after reading, when the 'residue in the mind,' makes itself most strongly felt. At these times, the sequence can be felt as one field, the poetic counterpart of field painting: "a type of painting developed in the USA from about 1950 in which the picture is no longer regarded as a structure of interrelated elements but as a single indivisible expanse." (From the Oxford Dictionary of 20th Century Art.) During reading, I'm far more aware, obviously, of the interrelated elements, the separate poems, on their separate pages (on their separate canvases, as it were) and so the expanse is not 'indivisible,' but it's the expanse, the unified field, which exercises a continuous hold upon the attention.

There are affinities between 'Les Barricades' and the work of a practitioner of 'Colour Field Painting,' even though its use of colour has no counterpart in the work of Jared Carter. This is an artist whose work has something of the mysterious composure of 'Les Barricades,' even if his own life was almost completely lacking in tranquillity: the artist Mark Rothko. Responding to these works of Jared Carter and Mark Rothko requires a process of attuning, an abandonment of everydayness, banality, the hectic, the fractured. If a person can't become attuned in this way, it's unlikely that they will be able to enter into the world of either artist. For all that, the worlds of the two aren't identical, nor are they equally valuable.

It's obvious to me - I hope it would be obvious to anyone who fair-mindedly, without preconceptions, compares the work of the two - that Jared Carter is a  more important verbal artist than the artist in paint Mark Rothko. There are reasons why this comparison should be contested but I think that they are largely extraneous reasons, to do with non-artistic considerations: the fact that fine art has scarcity value, unlike the very cheap publications of a poet, the higher, the misguidedly higher, prestige of fine art in general compared with poetry, which in turn has more to do with finance than with artistic value, the fact that art-works require buildings, often very expensive buildings, for their display.) Disregarding these gross and ultimately unimportant matters, I don't regard comparisons of artistic success in such different media as impossible.

Robert Hughes, in 'The Shock of the New,' praises Mark Rothko's paintings for their "exquisite sense of nuance." I think that "exquisite gradations" and "exquisite contrasts," or, perhaps, contrasts which are "striking but not particularly exquisite" would be more exact. Nuances are local complexities within the whole, and these are far more in evidence in this work of Jared Carter, as I hope I will show later. Modern art in general is excessively short of nuance, plainness verging upon monotony and plainness which is indistinguishable from monotony. Mark Rothko's work is not immune.ther states, of course) of the mentally ill and the abused.

Nuances help to animate the whole, give life to the whole, fascination to the whole. The nuances in 'Les Barricades...' achieve exactly this. But before I turn from the field of the poem-sequence to consider these nuances, I discuss the focus of this poem-field, as I see it. Field painting generally has no focus, no area which concentrates our attention. I believe that 'Les Barricades...' does, and that its presence here is an artistic advantage, the general absence of focus in Field Painting is an artistic disadvantage. The focus in 'Les Barricades...' is marked but restrained, is in keeping with the unified work, is in tenor with the work. The focus is scaled to the whole.

It is, though, preceded by a poem which could be taken to mark a focus, but one which, despite its subject matter, belongs almost entirely with the non-focal poems which are part of 'the ground.' (Individually, each of the ground-poems is remarkable, engrossing - when they seem to merge into the ground, this is only one perspective amongst a number of possible perspectives.)

The poem which anticipates the true focus of the work, but which isn't the real focus, is, in my reading (which, of course, can be contested) Poem 19 (out of 33 poems in the sequence), 'Waterspout.' This is a 'pre-focus,' then. Its subject matter is on a larger scale than anything which comes before or after. Still, the tone of the poem is fully in keeping with the spirit of the entire sequence. The waterspout is described - and this is a very characteristic and very important point - as "impossibly serene," although the serenity is in interesting contrast with all our instinctive feelings about waterspouts, that, as akin to tornadoes, they are centres of massive and potentially destructive energy. Before that, the waterspout, we read, "walks on water." Later, it "topples in a glassy sheen" and "scatters in a drifting spray." This is a harmless waterspout, then. We know that any expectation that this marks a focus for the sequence is without foundation. It has a similar function, perhaps, to the false reprises of music, or the 'endings' of a movement which turn out not to be endings at all - that is some distance away, after a substantial coda. The denial of expectations, I would claim, certainly, in this case, involves the denial of our usual associations, the grouping of waterspouts with the mighty and elemental forces of nature.

A massive waterspout, so long as we are not threatened directly by it, in reality or imaginatively, as readers, is soon eclipsed in emotional force by an interior, which has affinities with a Vermeer domestic interior in its serenity and tranquillity. These emotional constants of the entire sequence are not interrupted here, but are counterpointed by the deeply unsettling, or horrifying, force of 'Tankroom,' Poem 23 in the sequence.

Some readers and editors maintain that 'every poem should speak for itself' and require no notes. This same argument would probably disqualify scholarly and critical examination of poems. I think it can be disregarded, or treated just as opinion. A poem which requires notes for its full appreciation may be great, good, average, poor, but the provision of notes isn't the determinant. The notes to 'Les Barricades...' give the information that 'Tankroom' is an "unofficial term for a restricted area in a medical school or teaching hospital containing one or more large receptacles in which human cadavers intended for anatomical study are temporarily stored." This note, for me, increases the force of the poem, which begins:

Come together at last, no longer strangers,
braceleted with numbers, stripped of names,
asleep and drifting in these still waters,

they share a timeless urge - to be forever
lost in each other's arms, having no shame,
come together at last. No longer strangers,

they touch in casual ways we half remember -
moored in the twilight, tethered by a chain,
asleep and drifting...


they must be born again, as broken embers
carried on the wind, or fragments of flame
come together at last - no longer strangers
asleep and drifting in these still waters.

'Les Barricades' is unified above all by its tone, recognizably from one tone-world but without a trace of monotony - and by the poem-archetypes which permeate the poem-field. I discuss these in the next section. Although I give so many quotations from the work, the experience of reading the sequence is needed to appreciate just how intensively and intensely the poem-archetypes pervade the field.

Poem-archetypes in Jared Carter's 'Les Barricades Mystérieuses'

After discussing poem in archetypes in 'Les Barricades ...' I discuss my approach to archetypes as supplementary material.

I use the term here, 'poem-archetypes,' so as to bring out the fact that these are images and ideas which go back very far into the past, but which have also been deepened and expanded by the work of poets - although only a minority of poets. (A fuller discussion of archetypes follows in the next section.) As a partial list of images and ideas, light, fire, water. (Jared Carter would, I think, have been a superb poet of the sea if he had lived for any length of time on the coast as well as far inland.) In 'Tankroom,' there's fire and a liquid other than water, preserving fluid - a manufactured item transformed into a poem-archetype.

The way is a poem-archetype which is prominent in the sequence. The experience of being lost, the terror at being lost, the relief at finding a way, tracklessness and featurelessness contrasted with a route, a way through - these and other ancient, pre-poetic experiences contribute to the poem-archetype 'the way,' but so also have the poets. A familiar example is the opening of Dante's 'Divine Comedy:'

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
Che la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.

'The way' is not solely about the terror of being lost, the joy of finding a way. Its range is very great. It includes finding a way as a deep counterpart of being faced with a decision and coming to a decision. It's these calmer aspects which are predominant in the sequence, in keeping with the atmosphere of the sequence as a whole - except that 'the way,' like the whole poem-field, has subtly disturbing undercurrents - these disturbing and less calm undercurrents being most prominent in 'Tankroom,' my main reason for making it the focus of the poem.

'Improvisation,' the first poem in 'Les Barricades...' begins:

To improvise, first let your fingers stray
across the keys like travelers in snow:
each time you start, expect to lose your way.

Later, "...Give up the need to say/which way is right, or what the dark stones show;" and "out over emptiness..." The diction of this last is very effective, the hiatus between "out" and "over" and between contrasting well with the diction of the rest of the poem, its smoothness and silkiness (the silkiness of deep powder snow.)

'Portage' has "...Marks in the rock -
a path between two unconnected streams -
still show the way, if you know where to look.

'Palimpsest' has

"...Each spring the peonies
come back, to drape their heavy bolls across
the walk that led out through the apple trees,

as if to show the way -

In 'Ford,' the way isn't mentioned explicitly, but the poem is surely concerned with the way. The poem contrasts a path which is revealed and the need to choose a place of crossing over.

In 'Labyrinth' again the way isn't mentioned explicitly, but the way is present, or rather lost:

...A loose door swings;
no torch, no adventitious thread brings
meaning to this maze, this endless straying

Whilst 'Hawkmoth' has "...Unfurled/I searched the labyrinth..."

If water is a poem-archetype, then the different forms of water are rich and rewarding poem-archetypes in themselves: for example, snow, the water of lakes (calm surfaces which invite gazing and reflection), rivers and streams, the salt water of the sea - as well as the salt water of the womb.

Although the sea isn't a central concern of Jared Carters, the sea does enter into the sequence, and often to superb effect.

In 'Les Barricades...' Jared Carter turns to snow often. Snow, like the water of a lake or the water in the sea, is fascinating - or, again, a 'mysterium tremendum et fascinans' - but also dangerous and deadly. Deep snow can kill, the cold which is required for snow can kill. Deeper water lies deeper in the mind than shallow water, and it's impossible to swim in water in which it's impossible to drown. These ambiguities recall Rilke, the First Elegy of the Duino Elegies:

...Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,

...For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we can still just bear

Not all poets who write about snow contribute to snow as a poem-archetype. What's required is more than a very vivid description of snow or a snowy scene, more than a sensuous re-enactment of an experience in a snowy scene, but the forming of a link between snow and fundamental human experience. And so for the other poem-archetypes. It isn't necessary that the link should be in the least explicit - there may instead be a 'penumbra of meaning' which suggests central human experience.

An earlier contributor to the poem-archetype of snow, is Robert Frost, in 'Desert Places:

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last,

The snow is linked with the experience of desolation:

I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

Snow is important to me, but I live in a country where snow was unpredictable and often short-lived in the past but far more so now. Its lack is a cause of disappointment throughout the winter, with rare exceptions.

Some other occurrences of snow in the sequence, after the opening poem 'Improvisation:' The opening of the second poem, 'Dusk' has "This gleaming"..."vanishing into pattern over fresh snow," and, later, "...Within, the slow/ adjustment to evening - this soft pentecost,/ this gleaming." 'Solstice' has "...the light/softened by drifts of newly fallen snow,/has gone astray..." There are innumerable links between the poem-archetypes in the sequence, and this is just one. The link here is a natural one - snow linked with lack of light - although the lack of light is rendered by the far more memorable phrase "gone astray." Warmth and cold can also be poem-archetypes, and cold can also be linked with another poem-archetype, night, as here: "...cold and unregenerate night." "Cold" is fully in accordance with the poem-archetype but "unregenerate" is less expected. Less expected too, after repeated mention of "crows," that is, crows in general, is the particular " a single branch," which "springs up, and throws off slow,/metallic flakes..."

I have particular reasons for appreciating "metallic," a further reminder that although a poem is an artifact which produces a particular response in the reader, the poet is in control of the main response (as Philip Larkin stressed) but not in control of all the responses (as he didn't stress). "Metallic" is effective, but still more effective, in my reading, because it brings to mind the metallic - aluminium - strips which were released by Allied bombers during the Second World War to confuse German defences. It's very unlikely that the link between snow and this 'window' would be made by many people - but it's quite possible that links will be made which wouldn't occur to me. Whatever may be the case, this conjunction between the synthetic adjective and the natural noun, as before, works very well here.

For Jared Carter's contribution to the river as a form of poem-archetype, see, for example, 'Riverdrift:'

the liquid sounds, the way the river skirls
into sudden spray, or sun-struck aureole
they come to life again, freshwater pearls
catching the light within the random swirls.

Noteworthy, very noteworthy: the striking use in this poem concerned with liquid water of the term from phonetics, 'liquid.' The use of 'skirls' and 'aureole,' an exception, a marked contrast, to the common words - deployed with completely uncommon effectiveness - in most of the sequence. I'd even suggest that "...the whorls/of our fingertips" and, later in the poem, "...the whirls/of our touch" (a very effective substitution, of course) are part of a vivid description of a watery world in tumultuous, curving motion that has links with the whirling night sky of van Gogh's 'The Starry Night.'

'Berceuse' is concerned with the poem-archetype of the river, the stream and, to an extent, the sea, but the associations are not liquid "...an endless/stream of syllables that swirl away and gleam" and "that fragment wave which one moment seems/to break" (and "to break" is apt - it follows the line break.)

To do even partial justice to the poem-archetypes light and darkness would be difficult in the compass of this page. 'Dusk' has "...the slow adjustment to evening - this soft pentecost..." 'Summons' has:

...A stick of kindling falls,
a log shifts, sending a few sparks higher,

changing the shadows in the room. A spire
of light glints on the clock's face in the hall.

In 'Millefiori' a "late afternoon" is "burnished by the sun's oblique farewell." and

...Unhurried, like the moon's
ascent, or honey tipped from gleaming cells,
a mirror shines across an empty room.

And the sequence ends with 'Comet:' "a single branch is burning."

T o give just a very few reasons - there are others - why I think that 'Les Barricades' is a very great work of art, and justifies the concentrated attention of anyone interested in poetry, I would say, in very concise, summary form:

Jared Carter's contribution to the poem-archetype - that is, his contribution to deepening some central human experiences. Only a minority of poets have contributed to the poem-archetype, I think.

The diction of the poems has negative virtues - such as a lack of pretentiousness, a lack of straining for effect - and abundant positive virtues. Although I refer to language and diction on this page, I certainly haven't done justice to it. I think, for example, of the glow of "rosewood" in the poem 'Parfumeur,' whose first line is "Set free among the rosewood-paneled rooms." I think of the austere lines from 'Comet:'

....These barricades
are all instruction now, these sounds evade
the measure, and the swarm's impulsive churning.

My own approach to archetypes in brief:

Archetypes are often taken to be deep, universal, very ancient expressions which have a bearing upon central human concerns.

Northrop Frye's 'The archetypes of literature' (1951 - see also the discussion of archetypes in 'The anatomy of criticism, 1957) claims to offer a method which is rigorous, in fact, scientific. "Every organized body of knowledge can be learned progressively; and experience shows that there is also something progressive about the learning of literature." "Physics is an organized body of knowledge about nature...Art, like nature, is the subject of a systematic study." "...there is surely no reason why criticism, as a systematic and organized study, should not be, at least partly, a science." "Certainly criticism as we find it in learned journals and scholarly monographs has every characteristic of a science." Later, we read of "classifying principles" and "inductive movement towards the archetype." Almost all of this, in its references to literature and criticism, is rubbish, almost unadulterated rubbish - only the possibility of "classifying principles" can be salvaged from the wreckage. Northrop Frye obviously had heard of words such as 'inductive' but had no acquaintance with the difficulties of induction - induction as applied to scientific research, let alone applied to literature and criticism - or with all the concepts which are essential to understanding the field he claims to survey, such as falsifiability, a posteriori concepts. 'Organized study' doesn't necessarily lead to 'organized knowledge.' Again, he should have realized that in view of his ignorance of epistemology he was in no fit state to comment.

Another criticism is brought out by the introductory comments in one of the places where extracts can be found, 'The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.' (Another place is the reader edited by David Lodge, '20th century Literary Criticism.')

From the introduction in the Norton Anthology: "Frye's work has been widely discussed and admired but also sharply criticized. Often, in reply, Frye embraces the charge against him. For example, he cheerfully admits his refusal to judge differences between good and bad literary works, even though this position puts him at odds with many of the major critics of the English and American traditions, as well as more recent theorists..." But not, I'm very much afraid, at odds with large numbers of academics, who are completely unconcerned with the artistic value of the work they use to illustrate a trend, an ideology, a movement, or whatever it may be. This failure to evaluate is a serious matter. Failure to evaluate in general is discussed very well by James Wood, 'The Slightest Sardine,' a review in the London Review of Books of 'The Oxford Literary History, Vol. XII: 1960-2000: The Last of England? by Randall Stevenson, published by Oxford University Press. It can be read on the page http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n10/wood02_.html

In 'The archetypes...' he does, however write (Section II) about "the feeling that we have all had: that the study of mediocre works of art, however energetic, obstinately remains a random and peripheral form of critical experience, whereas the profound masterpiece seems to draw us to a point at which we can see an enormous number of converging patterns of significance." This admission makes Northrop Frye's claim for scientific status for literature and criticism ridiculous. Aesthetic evaluation is inseparable from literature and criticism and plays no part in science.

My approach to archetypes involves these claims:

(1) Scientific knowledge and other aspects of contemporary thought have made new classifications of archetypes possible, in fact necessary.

(2) Scientific knowledge and other aspects of contemporary thought have altered our understanding of individual archetypes.

(3) Some archetypes have lost their power, and can no longer be called 'archetypes.'

(4) Some archetypes have less force in some cultures than others. Even within Western culture, there are significant differences.

(5) Poets, philosophers and others can promote archetypes and make them more forceful and influential. Archetypes depend upon individuals as well as humanity for their survival and renewal. (My term 'poem-archetypes' refers to these, as well as to the ancient archetypes to which poets (eg Jared Carter), philosophers and others have contributed.)

(1) New classifications of archetypes. Ancient systems of beliefs and images have to be reinterpreted. Northrop Frye's classification was inadequate for his own age and is even more inadequate for ours.

Northrop Frye's classification made no attempt at {ordering}. Classifications of kind, of theme, are less important than the distinction between the more important and the more central (eg light) and the less important, the peripheral (eg streams). To make these distinctions is an instance of {ordering}.

Jared Carter's 'Les Barricades...' has been my starting-point, and my focus, in this section. One of these poems in particular, 'Comet,' made me realize the need to reinterpret the ancient archetypes. 'Comet' has

...Beyond these barricades

the scattered pieces come together, swayed
by spectral lines...

"Spectral lines" are an allusion to the modern technique of spectroscopy. The seventeenth century scientific revolution, and all its later developments, have subtracted nothing from the hold that light has over our imaginations. A ray of light issuing from a ray box in a darkened laboratory, white light split into a vivid spectrum in a darkened laboratory, the scientist gazing at spectral lines, the recording of photons from stars many light years away - all as wonderful as sunrise. Water turned to ice, whether in a study of phase or a frozen lake, the deformation of water droplets, whether as dew on a spider's web or in an investigation of surface tension, the deflection of charged particles as well as in the flitting of a bat - nature inexhaustibly present just as much in the laboratory as in a forest or on a mountain or by the sea.

An incomplete classification of archetypes (based on scientific principles which Northrop Frye claimed to follow but failed to follow). This scheme includes the majority of the archetypes which Jared Carter uses.

Contrast between Archetypes of Matter and Archetypes of Energy.

A working definition for the archetypes in this section: processes of nature which can be grasped by the senses, (supplemented, sometimes, by apparatus and experiments) and which have impact upon life (they may threaten it or sustain it or increase its pains or pleasures) are linked symbolically with powerful emotions, such as fear, anxiety, hope, reassurance, fulfillment, happiness, joy.

A. Archetypes of Matter: in {ordering}, one compound, water has particular importance, far more than any other.

Of the states of water: the solid (ice), the liquid, and the vapour (as clouds).

Of degrees of motion of water: still (as in the calm surface of a pond or lake or the sea), flowing, moving (as in a stream or river or a moving cloud), turbulent, as in a mountain stream, violent, as in a storm at sea.

Of degrees of presence: over-full (as in floods), median, deficient or absent (as in droughts, the desert).

Of the effect of these: shortage, and thirst. The effect of these on growth, together with light or lack of light: fruitfulness and abundance or shortage, leading to famine.

The water cycle as an organizing principle.

Although we can study the sea as an archetype and experience the sea as an archetype, we can pause to compare, to relate to other archetypes. From Rilke, 'The Fourth Elegy' of the 'Duino Elegies:'

Uns aber, wo wir Eines meinen, ganz,
ist schon des andern Aufwand fühlbar...

But we, whilst we are intent upon one object,
already feel the pull of another...

B. Archetypes of Energy




Gravitational: falling

'Darkened Rooms of Summer:' 'New Poems'

In his Introduction to 'Darkened Rooms of Summer,' Jared Carter's 'New and Selected Poems,' Ted Kooser endorses the poetry very warmly:

'I wouldn't want these words of mine to stand as any kind of obstacle on your way toward the rich poetry to follow, which you'll find to be far more moving and engaging than any professional literary opinion I might roll onto your path.' And nor would I want my own words  to have this effect.

None of Jared Carter's poetry is forbidding or inaccessible, but the simplicity-complexity of 'New Poems' calls, I think, for a certain amount of complex commentary to do justice to the complexities. There's absolutely no need for anyone deterred by complex commentary to be deterred by 'New Poems.'  Ted Kooser rightly calls attention to Jared Carter's skill. 'This poet can employ the most difficult of literary forms with such remarkable ease and grace that you won't even notice the scaffolding.' I think that complex commentary is sometimes needed to do justice to Jared Carter's skill. I hope that my appreciation for his exhilarating skill emerges from the technicalities.

A poetry stripped bare, a poetry which contains many observations, observations apparently unassuming, observations which sometimes have a degree of abstraction -  and  a poetry of richness, fullness, a degree of sensuousness - this miraculous fusion Jared Carter achieves in 'New Poems,' the last section of 'Darkened Rooms of Summer,' 'New and Selected Poems.' For a  linkage with these rich, poetic   observations carefully consider -  and be overwhelmed by - those astronomical observations which are cool, dispassionate, and at the same time reveal  the astonishing, the cosmos.

The poems are carefully regulated, control in fruitful tension with what is regulated - again, like the careful regulation of scientific inquiry, which leads to an achievement altogether different from a collection of careful observations, something far more valuable.

The diction of the poems is quite often closer to the observations of a scientific naturalist than to the writing of those poets who are determined to be wilfully poetic, poetic at all costs, but the diction is  time and again made more telling by poetic techniques - that is, sources of poetic power - to do with contrasts of line length and enjambment. Jared Carter's use of line and stanza enjambment is truly remarkable. Lines emerge which seem detachable from the text, a suitable format for those almost empirical observations, lines which, seen from a different perspective, return quietly to the flow of the text, which is varied, without any ostentation, generally quiet but  always compelling. Again and again, these truncated lines are sound-linked with immense skill and effectiveness: snippets which cohere but do far more than cohere. The detached lines sometimes have a radically contemporary feel, but the technique has nothing in common with attempts to be radical and contemporary which depend upon diction, and the more puzzling the diction the better.

The cool and the warm in this poetry are better considered in the light of colour theory - cooler and warmer colours - than in terms of personality. The poems are more often cool than warm, but there's nothing even slightly chilling about them.  The poems show restraint but the impact of a restrained poem may be - and in New Poems, generally is - much greater than the impact of a poetry, very common, very familiar, which plays with emotion.


This poem is certainly one of the more restrained in this section. It can be viewed as a kind of  thought experiment, but a richly evocative thought experiment, one with a variety of actual and potential linkages.

These lines use sound-linkage for strikingly dissimilar parts of speech,  'yet' and 'net:'

the short line

be vaporous, yet

and the short line

or empty net.

Anyone who finds this unremarkable should dwell upon this remarkable conjunction, the physicality and the physical emptiness of 'empty net,' the tangible structure made of natural or man-made materials which here contains nothing, linked with a line which concerns the vaporous but goes beyond it, the vaporous 'yet.' The earlier line is about the insubstantial but with a qualification. The later line is about the substantial containing the insubstantial, the net which contains nothing.

Jared Carter seems to me the most philosophically interesting of contemporary poets. The philosophical issues are muted, not in the least obtrusive in the poetry, as they should be. I'm referring here to philosophy as professional philosophers would understand it, not watered-down notions of philosophy. It's very unlikely that Jared Carter had in mind as he wrote technical philosophy, or the aspects of technical philosophy I cite, but he has an interest in branches of science which raise acute philosophical issues and which are permeated by philosophical discussion. His blog contains a discussion of the theoretical physicist Paul Dirac, for instance.

The poem is intriguing in much the same way that some philosophical explorations of metaphysics are intriguing, even if it proceeds, obviously, by means other than abstract argument. From the non-technical introduction to 'Contemporary Readings in the Foundations of Metaphysics,' a generally very technical volume edited by Stephen Laurence and Cynthia Macdonald,' raising ontological questions: What might these be? A list follows of things which have existence, according to many philosophers, including 'Possibilia,' which include non-actual but possible states of affairs. The study of imaginary worlds is very highly developed in contemporary philosophy. The imaginary worlds of poets in general have next to nothing to do with philosophical imaginary worlds, known as 'possible worlds' ('Contemporary Readings ...' includes a selection of essays, 'Possible Worlds and Possibilia') but this is not so in the case of Jared Carter's poem, something which merits further, fruitful exploration. 'Bodiless' has philosophical implications too, obviously extending to Plato's concept of the incorporeal soul, introduced in the middle dialogues.

The empty net is made more objective - 'objective' to be understood in philosophical terms, with a philosophical meaning or a particular philosophical meaning given to the philosophically important term 'object' - by the reference to another physical object, driftwood. By the mere mention of the driftwood and net, a world is opened up. Without any further references, to brine, tides, flotsam, rock pools or fish or whatever, the coast is brought to life. Its objectivity is intensified by a contrast - with the abstraction of the reference in the same verse paragraph to 'circumambient winds.' With the exception of this word, the diction of the poem could hardly be simpler, more direct.

An interpreter is free to make a linkage between 'unbound' in the poem and the 'bound' and 'unbound' of other texts.  I do make the linkage. Obviously, poems give some {restriction}:- (reference) but many references can hardly be ruled out. The canon of literature, as well as literary works outside the canon, will continue to influence readings and interpretations. I think of Aeschylus' 'Prometheus Bound' (or the work attributed to Aeschylus) and Shelley's 'Prometheus Unbound.'

At the beginning of the last verse paragraph, 'My shadow, far below ...' is unexected, startling.  This is aerial view, not the ground view we almost always have, in which shadows are always somewhere to the side, never far below us.

The contrast between presence and absence, the tangible and the intangible, is intensified in the closing lines of the poem,

Across the green fields like a dream
    of April snow.

Here, the pararhyme green-dream puts the colour-word and the dream into very effective linkage and contrast. The colour-word green gains in intensity by the contrast with the reference to a dream world. The substantial poetic presence of 'snow' is modified by the lateness, the time-reference, April. The substantiality of this snow can't be expected to last long. The title of the poem, 'Clouds,' concerns something which is clearly visible but vaporous, a similar qualification of substantiality ({restriction}:- (substantiality).

Throughout, the poem is written with a light touch, certainly without a trace of pretentiousness, but is more than merely playful.  The world of thought experiments can be trivial, even when thought experiments are used to explore hideous moral dilemmas, but this poem's exploration of possibilia is light but illuminating. Paul Klee's 'Drawing is taking a line for a walk' seems to me to err in its playfulness, ever so slightly or more than slightly. At any rate, an artist who is no more than playful is a lesser artist.


A succession of words with semantic force or given semantic force sets the scene, strongly:  door hinge loose toppled  bricks scattered

As in the case of the ring of trees in the poem 'Gone,' layering is used very effectively. I use the term 'layering' to refer to the increase in effectiveness and impact but above all the increase in complexity which are possible when a further layer of meaning is added (although I take the term from the computer graphics programs, such as CorelDRAW, which allow an image to comprise various layers. The impact of 'scattered bricks' is given {modification} by the addition of the layer which has 'fringe.' This softening word is in very effective tension with the inherent hardness of the bricks. Not only that, but fringe is also an organizing word, in very effective tension with scattering. More exactly, the poem makes use of opposing forces, like the tensile and compressive forces of structural engineering. Jared Carter has certainly contributed significantly to the structural engineering of  poems, the design of poems which stand sturdily and do not collapse.

The poem is very strong in its depiction of strength

The pump's iron bands
grip the stone ledge.

but the strength is in effective contrast with the yielding of the lost playground, replaced by 'the drifts of Queen Anne's lace.' I don't regard the last line, 'curtsy and bow' as sentimental or whimsical, undoing the effect. I regard it as the restoring of the everyday, the more trivial but the important everyday, and the restoration of softness after hardness - as another contrasting layer in the poem, a successful example of layering, increasing the poem's complexity and appeal. There can obviously be too many layers in a poem, but I think that Jared Carter avoids the danger here. He ends the poem in a very different emotional key from the opening, but I count it an artistic success.

That Jared Carter is a poet who presents contrasts with such accomplishment is exactly what we would expect from the title of the volume, 'Darkened Rooms of Summer.'


Anyone who knew only the poem 'Cloud' would recognize, on reading 'Dryad,' the same world of feeling, cool-coloured rather than hot, but the coolness owes nothing to technicality or inaccessibility. Coolness here goes well with vigour, energy, urgency, animation:

Into the mist - the windswept hair,
    the swirling rout

Of leaves - was held back by the stark
    and tangled names

The first line of 'Dryad' includes the word 'encrypted' but the technical word coheres well with the non-technical content to follow, packed with verbal incident, some of it puzzling ('encrypted.')  It does remind us that Jared Carter has an  appreciation for the technical.

From The Guardian review (10.02.14) of Kasper Holten's production of Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' at the Royal Opera House: 'Giovanni's servant Leporello climbs a ladder and starts writing a name on the balcony wall. The digitised projection that follows his hand was culled from a royal calligrapher, video designer Luke Halls tells me. The calligrapher's writing that has been digitised is then projected as emerging handwriting at the right moment. But that's nothing. Next, the whole facade begins to fill with names until, by the end of the overture, the hundreds – no, thousands – of women seduced by Giovanni have been recorded.' The Menin Gate Memorial contains (in the Hall of Memory) the names, carved in stone, of  54,896  Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient but whose bodies have never been found or identified.

The names in this poem are unidentified, a most mysterious collection. They seem to be many, so many that the mind finds it impossible to dwell on individual names, so that they seem unseparated, 'tangled.'  Their starkness is intensified memorably by 'colder spark' but what succeeds in developing the spark into flames belongs to the penumbra of mystery.

In poetry, chaos and control are never, or should never be, equally available. A poet may be overwhelmed by, but should never be at the mercy of, the emotions and experiences of a poem. This is certainly the case here, as it is in all of Jared Carter's poetry.


The opening lines are a momentary reminder of  a writer hardly in evidence in this section,  Jared Carter the regionalist writer, but 'Gone' is resolutely non-regionalist after this brief interjection.

Particularly impressive is the rendering of 'silence,' an absence, a privation, in the most firm and durable manner, as if the words were stamped on strong and beautiful hardwood, particularly impressive is that one word of one syllable, 'pent:'

    like something pent

The poem ends with an exploration of nature in musical, or banjo, terms: 'fretted trees' and

... new fingerings
    among the leaves.

If it's objected that nothing in the trees corresponds structurally with the frets of a banjo (small metal bars set across the fingerboard), I'd make the point that here, the trees are acted upon by fretting in the sense of irritating, distressing, worrying: an interesting and sophisticated effect. There is, though, a direct allusion, I find, which explains the wording. In Robert Frost's poem 'Directive,' which I find more diffuse and unsatisfactory than his best work. This line is one of the better ones, although its impact seems to me lessened by its almost throwaway status:

A few old pecker-fretted apple trees

where 'pecker' is 'woodpecker.'  The trees in 'Gone' are characterised, given individuality and far greater presence, by forming 'this ring / of fretted trees.' The phrase is given more care and attention.

These lines from 'Directive' seem to me to be hardly worth writing or, once having been written, definitely worth removing during revision:

There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.


The opening

As fireflies, like vials of flame,
    break and refill
Their slender flasks, and as the name
    of crickets still

is followed in the next verse-paragraph by the word 'Concatenates.'

Of the fruitful sources of contrast in a poem, the contrast between concrete and abstract words is one of the more infrequently used. Here, Jared Carter makes memorable use of the contrast. Despite his reputation as a concrete poet, Seamus Heaney made use of abstraction repeatedly and ineptly. I discuss the matter in Seamus Heaney's abstractions.

The poem ends with a superb and audacious linkage between concrete and abstract. The concrete - pearls strung together. The abstract - the moments strung together in the continuum of time, which forms the subject matter of very many metaphysical inquiries. McTaggart's classic essay on time is one of many (The Nature of Existence, Volume II. See, for example, Sections 331 and 332.)

In the Introduction to his massive 'Guide to Modern World Literature,' Martin Seymour-Smith gives an extended discussion of the differences between 'naive' and 'sentimentive' poetry which has application to Jared Carter. He writes,

'I have characterised some writers as naive and others as sentimentive. In 1795 Goethe's friend the German poet, dramatist and critic Friedrich Schiller published his essay On Naive and Sentimentive Poetry (Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung). I have followed the sensible practice of translating 'sentimentalische' as 'sentimentive'; 'naive' is misleading too, but 'simple' is even more so - at least 'sentimentive' avoids 'sentimental'.


'Here I mean by the naive writer the writer whose vision has something of the uncomplicated and direct about it ... His view of life is uncluttered by intellectual considerations. Of course there can be no truly naive writer now; and in any case all writers, as Goethe pointed out, are ultimately naive ...

I mean by the sentimentive writer - always mindful of Goethe's remark about his rootedness in the naive - the writer who is sophisticated, trained in thinking, self-conscious. Thomas Mann is paradigmatic in this respect, yet his naive roots are equally obvious.'

Jared Carter is a sentimentive writer in 'New Poems' and a non-sentimentive writer in the rest of his work, except for 'Les Barricades ...' The contrast is very striking. This,  the opening of 'Fire Burning in a 55-Gallon Drum,' is non-sentimentive and the whole poem is non-sentimentive:

Next time you'll notice them on your way to work
or when you drive by that place near the river
where the stockyards used to stand, where everything

is gone now. They'll be leaning over the edge
of the barrel, getting it started ...

Equally striking is the very great contrast between Jared Carter's non-regional poetry, which includes 'New Poems,' and his regional poetry. In the midst of a reading of 'New Poems,' it sometimes requires an effort to realize that this is the same poet who is an acclaimed regionalist. In this section, anything to do with Indiana seems far more distant than Greek mythology and literature, as even the titles suggest: 'Dryad,'  'Ariadne,' 'Perseus,' 'Polyxena' (which begins with a mention of Achilles), 'Achilles' (which begins 'I to Apollo's temple came / to pledge my troth' a rare example of ineffective writing, I think), 'Philoctetes,' 'Priestess,' which is about a sibyl: not a sibyl from antiquity but the poet Emily Dickinson.


This is a poem about Emily Dickinson and the secluded, circumscribed world of Emily Dickinson, who sentenced herself to conditions as severe as house arrest, almost. And, also, a poem which leads us, implicitly and explicitly, into very spacious worlds, those of the interior life. It movingly records both the pathos of Emily Dickinson's life and the inner life reflected in her poetry - 'such treasure.'

Jared Carter has found objective correlatives for her momentous interior life: the rooms in which she was confined, the sibyl, and the aroma of wild roses. (Objective correlative: T S Eliot used the term for 'a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion' that the poet feels and hopes to evoke in the reader ('Hamlet,' 1919).)

Kinetic poetry is a generally minor branch of avant-garde art but important poetry is so often kinetic in the sense that it presents multiple, shifting perspectives, allows us to see the same thing as very different things, changing, and, it may be, changing back again. The place captured in this poem is shifting and various, not static. The rooms are seen not by the light of desiccating daylight but transformed by a kind of acute night vision: 'the deep blue / of those dark rooms.'

Emily Dickinson was described in the opening line as 'sibyl, elusive taper.' 'Sibyl' is a quietly audacious way of linking her with women of a very different kind. Heraclitus is the first Greek writer known to have mentioned a sibyl. Fragment 92 begins, 'The Sibyl, with frenzied mouth ...' The earliest Sibyls, prophesied under the influence of a god - at Delphi, one of the chthonic gods, the sibyl seated above a cleft in the rock from which fumes rose.  By  further audacious fiat, Jared Carter translates this into Emily Dickinson  breathing 'the rising fumes / Of the eglantine.' The eglantine is the Sweet Briar or Eglantine Rose, a wild English rose which has fragrant foliage rather than fragrant blooms. Although subject to self-imposed confinement to a large extent, she was not confined indoors, and the house had a large flower garden, which clearly never competed with the existential questions which are at the centre of her poetry. 'Elusive taper' has the kind of rightness which is rare, and rightness for more than one reason, amongst them obviously these,  the fact that a taper gives out a light not at all glaring, but a light of great individuality and purity, and is a light source not in the least fashionable or modish or 'advanced.' The taper, a slender candle, suggests the slightness of Emily Dickinson. Not, obviously, any slenderness in achievement, but simply the slight and slender physical impression she gave.

In this country, there's a gardening technique called (despite metrication) 'square foot gardening,' originally devised by Mel Barthlomew in the (resolutely non-metrical) United States. This allows  a surprising array of plants to be grown in a very small area, surprising growth to flourish in very little space. This poem succeeds in packing an astonishing array of insights into a very small poem, but one which seems boundless.

A poem is more than a mere starting-point, of course, but I think that so many poems, including this one, need much fuller rather than bare background knowledge for a fuller appreciation. Also to be considered, very seriously, are the particular interests and background knowledge of the reader, which bring to the foreground some things and relegate other things to the background, or to complete unawareness. To declare an interest, the figure of the sibyl interests me intensely, for reasons which are individual and largely private. I'm heavily influenced by one particular set of experiences, in sculptural art rather than verbal art: the sibyls carved in limewood and oak which form part of the choir stalls in  Ulm Minster. These, like the other carvings, are a notable achievement in humanistic German art and are calm, reflective and promoting reflection. I found them so engrossing that when I went to see them, I spent hours on each of my visits in concentrated looking at these and other wood carvings, trying to ignore the constant stream of tourists who stayed just long enough to photograph them, content to settle for a two-dimensional record with a gadget rather than taking the opportunity to appreciate, at the only time they could, in their actual presence, their so much richer and fuller, three-dimensional life. No photograph I've seen conveys anything but a fraction of the achievement.

I bring to Jared Carter's poem 'Priestess,' then, an understanding of the sibyl as serene as well as frenzied, an understanding which allows contradictions and extreme contrasts to be accommodated. This understanding is a fruitful one for the appreciation of the radical contrasts in 'Priestess,' I think.

The general assumption that interpretation is a fully public activity seems to me mistaken. The interpreter is likely to bring to the interpretation a range of influences and forms of knowledge. Some of them may be of use to the receptive reader or listener to a greater or lesser extent, some may be difficult to recommend or convey, or may find even receptive people unreceptive: interpretation is partly private, although not private in the sense of the private language discussed by Wittgenstein in the 'Philosophical Investigations' (Remarks 243 - 315.)


The poetry of insects is a flourishing branch of poetry, so much so that an anthologist could compile a very varied and interesting book of Entomological Poetry. Probably, the more easily overlooked or less familiar insects have attracted as much  interest as butterflies. Jared Carter has made important contributions to the genre. 'Darkened Rooms of Summer' includes poems with the title 'Galleynipper' (the regional name for the largest bloodsucking mosquito in Indiana, Psorophora ciliata), 'Cicadas,' 'Cicadas in the Rain,' 'Landing the Bees' and various moths: 'Cecropia Moth,' 'Hawkmoth' and the moth of this section, called simply 'Moth.'

This poem is wistful, almost elegiac, but avoids  wistful and elegiac diction, instead making use of a predominantly bare and sparse texture and diction. Of course, the brevity of the form used here and in all the poems of the sequence reduces the risk of over-elaboration but it isn't at all easy to turn the limitation of length into an advantage. Again and again, this is achieved, as here, the last verse-paragraph of the poem:

You landed on my finger, where
    your moment's stay
Seemed endless, till that other flare
    called you away.

The simplicity, dignity, directness and restraint are far closer to the world of the Greek Anthology than to so much  soon-to-be-outdated contemporary practice. These are superb lines.

Even so,  the Greeks should never be granted exemption (from criticism, that is). I've long felt, for example, that Simonides' celebrated lines about the fallen of Thermopylae may be dignified and restrained but are too plain, too simple. A literal translation can convey the excessive plainness and simplicity of the original, although it does no justice to the metre. The main strength of the lines is metrical, I think.

Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

O stranger, announce to the Spartans that here
we lie, obedient to their commands.

It would be a mistake to concentrate attention only on the regular, formal sound-linkages of this poem or any other poems, for that matter.  The poems in this section follow the sound-scheme a b a b  c d c d  e f e f. A comprehensive view of sound-linkage will not neglect sound-linkages not belonging to this scheme. This poem contains a notable example of a sound-linkage which is informal and of wide span, that between the word 'away' in the last line, 'called you away' and the fourth line of the poem, 'away, and own.' Of course, greater {distance} between sounds is linked with attenuation of the sounds and after a certain point, the sounds are perceived as very faint and eventually as vanishing. However, this poem is short and there's exact repetition of the word, 'away.'

The line 'away and own' is detachable from the flow of the poem as well as, obviously, having a natural place in the flow of the poem and 'away, and own' has, of course, an interesting sonority as a detached line, with a very subtle linkage established between the two 'w' sounds - which, however, belong to the sphere of 'sounds as read' rather than 'sounds as heard.'


This plain-speaking, no-nonsense, very unusual poem is baffling in part, even if the main intent is clear. The poem is so forthright that the baffling aspects seem hardly more problematic than anything else in the poem. This is an authoritative but not authoritarian poem.

Feasting and drinking are enthusiastically encouraged  after a period of fast,  obviously the superfluity which restores the balance after privation, makes up for privation. But heartiness, satisfying hunger and slaking thirst do have a shadow side, it seems. The recommendation to drink is followed, not by a warning but what seems a simple fact, expressed very incisively:

... Drink then, take up
    the poisons earth
Provides ...

This is more than natural imperfection, the blight which finds expression in Blake's sick rose or the worm in the bud, and more than an accusation of earth's malevolence or capacity for a kind of malevolence. I interpret 'the poisons' pharmacologically. Poisonous substances, or substances poisonous in excess, may have benefits, far more so than substances which are harmless. The power to do harm is also the power to do good.

Modulation: technical

{modulation} is a {sub-theme} of the {theme} {distance}. Here, in the case of 'modulation,' I generally omit the brackets, { } which I use to enclose the names of {themes}. I give a technical introduction to {themes} in the page Introduction to {theme} theory. As in the case of other {themes}, {distance} includes seemingly unlinked activities. The claim that the {theme} links these diverse activities is a radical one. {distance} includes mathematical distance and the distance of literary narrative or narrative in other fields. The theme is applied to time as well as space, to experienced distance as well as empirical, measurable distance. It tends, at greater values, to remoteness. The names of {themes} are nouns but can refer to an activity. So, {distance} can refer to the distance between objects and an activity, 'to distance...' 'to make distant...' and 'to set a distance...'

The datum is the base from which an object or event is distanced. (Compare datum plane, level or line in surveying. From this, heights and depths are calculated.) The datum may be page-home in Large Page Design. The user of the page may go to a point on the page remote from this starting-point. Home is the base, the starting point, the datum, for journeys in the world. The home key is the starting point, the datum, of a piece of tonal music.  In a development section, remote keys may be used, ones at great {distance} from the datum. Lines in Euclidean geometry can be regarded as having a datum in their construction, a starting point.















   {} Modulation